The third episode of True Detective’s debut season concluded with our first visual of Reggie Ledoux, concealed as he was by a gas mask while wielding his machete. One week later, the action reached its crescendo via director Cary Fukunaga’s storied single-take shootout. The result was a rush of enthusiasm from those who’d persisted through the show’s initial slow burn, which was weighed down with ponderous dialogue and familiar character sketches but buoyed by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s rapport. Those who’d bailed or bided their time had entered and come back to the fold, and a cult TV phenomenon to rival Carcosan myth heated up last winter’s Sunday nights.
A year and a half later, creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto is up to his old tricks. A few hours of occasional tedium, tonal chaos, and ornate table setting has delivered us to where we are now. This iteration of Detective is not the buddy-comedy riff that resonated throughout our time in Erath, and some would argue it’s suffered for that. But familiar patterns are beginning to emerge, one that might create a groundswell of buzz deafening enough to overwhelm the vocal consensus of diminished expectations. Season two’s third episode, much like its predecessor’s, braced us for what the bad guy might look like. Yet again, he/she hides behind a mask and lets lethal weaponry do the talking. Then, after 45 minutes of by-the-books and ho-hum in “Down Will Come,” we get our adrenaline shot in the form of a climactic gunfight. Directed by the very capable Jeremy Podeswa (for all ye Justin Lin haters), our protagonists’ mêlée with Mexican gang members suspected in Caspere’s murder — an anarchic scene that spilled out into the streets of Vinci and claimed an untold number of civilian and PD casualties — was a truly shocking spectacle of ultraviolence. And like Marty Hart and Rust Cohle’s aforementioned, bracing escape from an undercover infiltration gone haywire, Paul and Ani and Ray are now brothers and sisters in arms and harm’s way.
Still, one wonders about the effects of the stakeout-gone-awry on each of them (never mind the disastrous impact on their investigation). In an earlier scene, Ray remarked to Paul that after what the latter had seen overseas, anything over here is a breeze. But even Ray couldn’t have counted on what they were about to walk into, and who knows how the results will be coded into Paul’s PTSD. What’s almost certain is that Ray might be rethinking Frank’s offer to come work full-time for him after that rough day at the office. Whether his actions in “Down Will Come” bring him further shame or help save him from a self-perception of worthless failure remains unclear. Ani’s rattled but seems grateful to have Paul and Ray at her back, now that it’s clear virtually everyone in her department and higher up the chain is ready to stab her in it.
All eyes are on these three now, so it’s time for them to close ranks, not that different from what Marty and Rust determined once they got the band back together. (That’s facilitated all the more now that Dixon’s dead and gone.) You could tell from the glances of the Vinci brass that their lame-duck assignees to Caspere’s case are getting a bit too close to the truth. There are no promotions to be had in exchange for abetting corruption, just as there are no rewards for valor. And now that they’re at the center of a public massacre, one instigated by their pursuit of a lead in the Caspere case, keeping their heads down is not an option.
This shouldn’t be hard for Paul in particular to comprehend, since his hotel was already stalked by paparazzi wanting info on Black Mountain’s dealings and more details on that alleged highway hummer. Though there is now no doubt that he and war buddy Miguel have more than a platonic past and, after a long night at Lux, present. Like Ray, Paul is at a crucial point of defining himself as driven to self-destruction by shame and internalizing what Frank calls “black rage,” or reconciling his many sides and living the best life he knows how.
Frank is, in some ways, the most lost of our four ostensible leads. He feels he’s earned his shot at happiness, but it’s all some abstract fantasy that he senses slipping away. When he advises Ray that “Sometimes your worst self is your best self,” he really means it. Unlike Ani, Ray, and Paul, he can’t really reference his best self. It’s still potential unfulfilled. For the others, contentment can at least be like one of those memories Ani describes to Athena: something that finds you even when you weren’t looking for it and acts as a guide. A world where Frank doubles back to old criminal holdings and bullies his way into a stake might well be what he deserves.
But in the interest of ascertaining where everyone stands, here’s what we know: Mayor Chessani’s family (not unlike the Childress clan that lorded over season one’s coastal Louisiana) has run roughshod over Vinci more or less since it was settled. They’ve paid off attorney generals and done whatever was necessary to ensure their hostile sovereignty, cultivating a sense of perverse entitlement among Vinci’s elite. But at some point, the Chessanis (notably the mayor’s father, Theo) and Caspere’s cuckoo shrink Dr. Pitlor (one Rick Springfield) crossed paths with Eliot and the other communalists, though it’s too early to infer what their mutual influence might have been. It’s confirmed, however, that the mayor’s first wife (i.e., Betty and Tony’s mom) was put under Pitlor’s care for schizophrenia and ultimately killed herself at his catchall institution for the clinically insane and cosmetically enhanced. Ani empathizes as Betty shares this history, because her mom also passed away when she was only a preteen. And she can definitely relate to Betty’s sentiment about what a bad man her dad is, as she knows from untrustworthy members of the opposite sex.
Amid the carnage and the admittedly insufferable exchanges about family and masculinity between Frank and Jordan, there was some emphatic commentary in “Down Will Come.” Ani couldn’t have been plainer with her boss about the double standards regarding sex in the workplace, but there was also the open questioning of her team’s use of force as they gathered to ferret out Caspere’s suspected killer, Ledo Armarilla. The outcome spoke for itself, an unnecessary mess of death brought on in part by the inevitable dispensing of firearms on all sides. Though, really, it’s as much a metaphor for the fated consequence of so many vested interests in either covering up Caspere’s death or coming to some kind of truth. Who these people are, where they come from, what they want it to mean, and what they want for the future — it’s all on the line now. It’s gut-check time, which is when True Detective is at its best.
Apart from all that:
• Other minutiae: Caspere and Chessani were looking into acquiring toxic farmland in Fresno, Ani’s on departmental leave for boinking her subordinate, Paul’s gonna be a daddy (!), and people are pissed about the proposed electric rail.
• Too bad a lot of those pissed-off protesters are now dead.
• Frank and Jordan are the king and queen of unintentional hilarity, but Frank legit killed me with “Whatever the fuck they call MDMA now.”
• Good to see Fukunaga and Woody Harrelson are still raking in that executive-producer money.
• Avocados. Timely.
• I love dates. I love Frank referencing crimes from ’99,’03, and January ’10.
• Is Pedialyte for hangovers a thing?
• Love Ray now, but it’s been a long journey back from episode one.
• What happened to the kidnapped maid?
• If Eliot thinks Ray’s aura is huge, he should see Colin Farrell’s sex tape.
• More adventures in “bureaucrats love wartime presidents,” with Ani’s boss owning a Harry S. Truman bio on his shelf.
• Pitlor bad.